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Sarah Harlow with her toddler, Nyla, working on her blog in the Women’s Business Incubator’s co-work/co-play space in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Lisa Stiffler)

Instead of forcing women to choose between career and caring for their children, Women’s Business Incubator wants to help them do both.

The Seattle-based nonprofit recently opened a space at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, in Seattle’s Green Lake neighborhood, that combines co-working and childcare to help women who are eager to launch a business or return to the workforce — but also need help with their kids.

“We want to build a community for the kids and parents to network socially and professionally,” said Marlene Mejia Weiss, board member and “community cultivator” for the nonprofit.

If the model succeeds, the church basement could become the new startup garage, Mejia Weiss suggested, perhaps only half jokingly.

The church space has the requisite co-working elements — Wi-Fi, a printer, a coffee maker and a quiet space for conference and video calls (which could help avoid incidents like the now-viral BBC interview crashed by children). And it has a preschool, playground and a child-proofed “co-work/co-play” room where parents can work with a baby or toddler on their lap or playing on the floor nearby.

“It speaks to a bigger challenge: How do you set it up so that you can have a job and use your training and skills and tend to your family?” said Nancy Jensen, program director of ReBoot Seattle, an organization that helps women transition back into the workforce after an absence.

Teacher Alex Grennan plays with 3-year-old Ashford Imboden at the incubator’s preschool while mom Melissa Imboden works in the next room. (GeekWire Photo / Lisa Stiffler)

“It shouldn’t be an either-or proposition, but it is,” she said. An opportunity like Women’s Business Incubator says, “let’s give you an infrastructure where you don’t have to decide that.”

Nationwide, moms work part-time in 17 percent of two-parent households and full-time in 52 percent of homes, according to data from the Pew Research Center. But childcare costs can be exorbitant. For a family with an infant and a 4-year-old child, care can cost nearly $23,000 a year in Washington state.

The goal of the Women’s Business Incubator is “to remove the unique challenges that women face in business,” said Eva Monsen, the group’s board president and a data engineering consultant who has worked for multiple tech companies.

So in addition to offering the co-working space and childcare, the organization also hosts events to help women re-enter the workforce after having children, facilitates networking and mentoring opportunities, and supports women interested in starting their own businesses.

Sarah Harlow and her 16-month-old daughter were using the co-work/co-play space on a recent morning. The toddler played on her mother’s lap while mom worked on a blog called TableDrops that provides tips and resources for making wedding and table centerpieces.

“It’s nice to work in your pajamas,” Harlow said, “but I’m more efficient here.”

At home, dirty dishes and laundry can prove distracting. “Here, I don’t think about that,” said the Seattle mom.

It’s an easy bus ride to the incubator’s co-working space near Interstate 5 for Helga Fuhrmann and her 11-month-old son Oliver. (GeekWire Photo / Lisa Stiffler)

Helga Fuhrmann, mother of 11-month-old Oliver, agreed. “I’m more efficient here, even though I only have two hours. At home, I wouldn’t have done anything.”

Fuhrmann, who lives near Gas Works Park, is working remotely for a company in Germany. She’s considering taking online classes with the support of childcare through the incubator.

Women’s Business Incubator opened their co-working and childcare site last month, and there are currently 15 members. The preschool has capacity for eight children at any given time.

There are a variety of memberships available. For $59 a month, parents have unlimited access to the co-work/co-play space. The preschool, which has a dedicated teacher, is available for $12 an hour or there are punch cards with discounted rates. The preschool costs $850 a month for care five days a week. The memberships include access to career-related events held at lunchtime and in the evenings, and the group is organizing kids’ camps over spring break and this summer.

First-time visitors can schedule a free, two-hour trial. The facility is open to dads as well as moms.

“It is very unusual to have childcare collocated with a co-working space,” said Jensen, from ReBoot.

But she expects more opportunities to support women who want to work and parent, predicting: “It’s the beginning of a bigger movement.”

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